“Bush Weighs Reaching Out To Muslim Brothers,” byu Eli Lake

Bush Weighs Reaching Out To Muslim Brothers
BY ELI LAKE – Staff Reporter of the Sun
June 20, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is quietly weighing the prospect of reaching out to the party that founded modern political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Still in its early stages and below the radar, the current American deliberations and diplomacy with the organization, known in Arabic as Ikhwan, take on new significance in light of Hamas's successful coup in Gaza last week. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is widely reported to have helped create Hamas in 1982.

Today the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research will host a meeting with other representatives of the intelligence community to discuss opening more formal channels to the brothers. Earlier this year, the National Intelligence Council received a paper it had commissioned on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood by a scholar at the Nixon Center, Robert Leiken, who is invited to the State Department meeting today to present the case for engagement. On April 7, congressional leaders such as Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, attended a reception where some representatives of the brothers were present. The reception was hosted at the residence in Cairo of the American ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone, a decision that indicates a change in policy.

The National Security Council and State Department already meet indirectly with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood through discussions with a new Syrian opposition group created in 2006 known as the National Salvation Front. Meanwhile, Iraq's vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, is a leader of Iraq's chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. His party, known as the Iraqi Islamic Party, has played a role in the Iraqi government since it was invited to join the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003.

These developments, in light of Hamas's control of Gaza, suggest that President Bush — who has been careful to distinguish the war on terror from a war on Islam — has done more than any of his predecessors to accept the movement fighting for the merger of mosque and state in the Middle East.

Should Mr. Bush ask his diplomats to forge new channels to the Muslim Brotherhood it would also be a recognition of the gains their parties have made in elections in the last three years. In Egypt, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, Islamist parties trounced their secular rivals. In part this was because these parties offered an uncorrupt alternative to the more secular parties in power, but some advocates inside the administration also say it reflects a tangible momentum for parties that seek to create Islamic republics. One State Department official yesterday said, "Our policy has to change from more democracy, fewer headscarves."

Nonetheless, administration officials this week also stressed that no decisions have been made as to a new initiative. One leading European Islamist, Tariq Ramadan, who is the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, is being denied a visa to assume a professorship he has been offered at Notre Dame University. The policy debate inside the administration is also contentious, with law enforcement agencies such as the FBI skeptical that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clandestinely more involved in supporting violent jihad than the organization's emissaries let on.

A State Department spokesman for the Bureau of Near East Affairs, David Foley, confirmed the meeting Wednesday to discuss a new approach to the Muslim Brotherhood. "We do these seminars, they help inform the policy making process. I am not suggesting someone would decide on a new policy on the Muslim Brotherhood as a result of this," he said. "This is the kind of consultations we often do. When there are alternative views, let's hear both sides. We are certainly willing to listen to voices from the outside."

Making the case today for outreach is Mr. Leiken, who co-authored with Steve Brooke a paper for the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs titled, "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood." That paper argues that Ikhwan has drawn contempt from violent Islamists such as Al Qaeda for its general disavowal of armed struggle. Tracing its history to its founding, the paper says the group today, particularly in Egypt, is genuine in its desire to participate in democratic politics.

Mr. Leiken said yesterday that there are two reasons why America should begin to rethink its prohibition of meeting with the brothers. "A new policy begins to combat some of our isolation in the Muslim world. I see the Muslim brotherhood, particularly in Egypt, as having what the communists used to call a two-line struggle, between moderate and dogmatic factions. Our outreach would help the moderates. That would strengthen those forces who are most willing to recognize the fact of Israel's existence and more democratic."

Mr. Leiken is a Harvard graduate and longtime expert on Latin America who broke with the hard left in the 1980s to oppose the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who became associated with Social Democrats such as Penn Kemble and Joshua Muravchick. He said he thinks diplomacy with Ikhwan could help us help them to moderate Hamas. "It is conceivable that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, aware Gaza could serve as an index, will try use its influence to get Hamas to be constructive," he said. The Egyptian government has used the Muslim Brothers for at least 10 years as a back channel to Hamas.

Mr. Leiken's Foreign Affairs paper and classified study for the National Intelligence Council has gotten the attention of senior National Security Council officials and Secretary of State Rice, according to two administration officials.

"The NIC asked me to provide an analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood and I was happy to oblige," Mr. Leiken said.

Arguing against a new policy on the brothers today will be a Hudson Institute expert on Islam, Hillel Fradkin. Mr. Fradkin declined to comment on his presentation ahead of the meeting. A colleague of his at the institute who has also taken a skeptical view of the brothers, Zeyno Baran, did say she was worried about a new direction by the Bush administration.

"The thinking is that to deal with terrorism, we need to deal with Muslims who will take care of their communities so there will not be people here and there doing terrorism," she said. "So we treat the brotherhood like an umbrella organization, like the Council on American Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America. You make them partners. They might Islamize the Muslims, but it's okay because they can think or do what they want as long as they are not violent. That is the misunderstanding and mistake."

The issue of the Muslim Brotherhood has also come up in the presidential contest for 2008. At the May 3 debate of Republican contenders for the presidential nomination, a former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, included the Muslim Brotherhood as a component of the "worldwide jihadist threat."

"This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate," he said in response to a question about what he would do to capture Osama bin Laden.

One of the more contentious issues with the Muslim Brotherhood is whether the group was connected to the 1981 assassination of an Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat. This reporter was told by leaders of the group last year that the ex-president's killers were from a breakaway faction known as the Islamic Group and that his murder was not condoned by Ikhwan. Sadat softened the government policy against the brothers in the early 1970s, allowing them to organize in universities, a decision many of the Brotherhood leaders in Cairo credit with laying the foundation for their gains in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Comments (4)

ausamaa said:

BTW, since when did the US have a problem with the traditional Muslim Brotherhood leadership?? And what MB branch are we taking about exactly? The Syrian, the Palestinian, the Gulf? Hamas is an MB outgrowth? Is it not?

But, just to carry the premis of the above article a little further, Bush should perhaps learn the lessons from Israel. They allowed (or tolerated) Hamas to grow to counter the influence of Fateh in occupied Palestine, only to discover that they have reated something they can neither control nor negotiate with. Or, why go far, he may find it easier to learn the lesons of Afghanistan. Was it not the CIA that made al Qaida the monster it turned out to be?

If that is where Bush is headed, then look for Abram Elliot’s fingerprints. Maybe he sees this as a better way to hit the “regimes” in Damascus and Cairo as well.

June 20th, 2007, 10:18 pm


ahmed agamieh said:

the american policy, in the middle east, is democratic, if and only if, the results suite her. it did not accept the results in Algier and in Palestine voting. Furthermore they faked information about Iraq. the American policy and governement is badly percepted in middle east.
The Ikhwan apear to be more honest. If honesty is a power, they relay on it to win the physical power of guns.

June 21st, 2007, 11:21 am


ebw said:

Mr. Leiken is a Harvard graduate and longtime expert on Latin America who broke with the hard left in the 1980s to oppose the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who became associated with Social Democrats such as Penn Kemble and Joshua Muravchick.

What a peculiar collection of referants. Opponants of the Reagan policy in Central America, the illegal support for the Contras in particular, are “the hard left”? “Social Democrats” has no associated qualifiers. Joshua Muravchick isn’t identified with the AEI or PNAC, and Penn Kemble isn’t credited with inventing letterhead organizations, or simply being in favor of continuing the Second Indo-China War (Vietnam War).

I wonder what else is horked in Eli Lake’s copy.

June 21st, 2007, 1:25 pm


Observer said:

From Rootless Cosmopolitan This superb analysis shows that the leopard does not change its spots. This is the doing of the current administration of GWB

Coming, as he does, from Fox News, Tony Snow is obviously a deeply cynical fellow, but this takes some beating: Asked to comment Wednesday on the bloodbath in Gaza, he answered: “Ultimately, the Palestinians are going to have to sort out their politics and figure out which pathway they want to pursue — the pathway toward two states living peaceably side-by-side, or whether this sort of chaos is going to become a problem.”

Everyone following the conflict in Gaza knows full well that the reason for the violence is not that Palestinians have not “sorted out their politics” — they’ve made their political preferences abundantly clear in democratic elections, and later in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the Saudis. The problem is that the U.S. and the corrupt and self-serving warlords of Fatah did not accept either the election result or the unity government, and have conspired actively ever since to reverse both by all available means, including starving the Palestinian economy of funds, refusing to hand over power over the Palestinian Authority to the elected government, and arming and training Fatah loyalists to militarily restore their party’s power. Unfortunately, after three days of some of the most savage fighting ever seen in Gaza, that strategy now lies in tatters. Fatah is, quite simply, no longer a credible fighting force in Gaza, where it has long been in decline as a credible political force.

But Snow’s cynicism is hardly unexpected. Back in January, I wrote:

In the coming weeks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will cluck regretfully about the violence unfolding in the Palestinian territories as if the chaos in Gaza has as little to do with her as, say, the bizarrely warm winter weather in New York. And much of the U.S. media will concur by covering that violence as if it is part of some inevitable showdown in the preternaturally violent politics of the Palestinians. But any honest assessment will not fail to recognize that the increasingly violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah is not only a by-product of Secretary Rice’s economic siege of the Palestinians; it is the intended consequence of her savage war on the Palestinian people – a campaign of retribution and collective punishment for their audacity to elect leaders other than those deemed appropriate to U.S. agendas. Moreover, the fact that the conflict is now coming to a head is a product of Rice’s micromanagement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s political strategy – against his own better instincts.

Rice’s siege strategy was premised on the belief that the economic torture of the entire Palestinian population would either force the Hamas government to chant the catechism of recognizing Israel-renouncing violence-abiding by previous agreements (again, Israeli leaders have to giggle at that one!) — or else, preferably, force the Palestinian electorate to recant the heresy of choosing Hamas as its government in the first place. Frustrated by the failure of this collective punishment to produce the desired results — and mindful of the need to quickly reorder Palestinian politics in order to satisfy the urgent need of the increasingly marginal Arab autocracies that Washington seeks to mobilize against Iran — she has stepped things up a notch, cajoling the hapless Abbas to take steps to toppled a government democratically elected only 11 months ago and beefing up the forces of the Fatah warlords dedicated to taking down Hamas in order to restore their own power of patronage.

At about the same time, Conflict Forum reported on the aggressive campaign by White House Middle East policy chief Elliot Abrams to provoke a coup by Fatah against Hamas. The U.S. policy was to prevent a Palestinian unity government from forming, and once it was formed, the policy became to topple it. And Robert Malley and Henry Siegman warned that the White House policy failed to reckon with the fact that Fatah had been defeated politically, and would not be able to restore its leadership of the Palestinians through a putsch. Even if his forces could be boosted, they warned, “(they) will remain a far less motivated one (than Hamas), seen by many as doing America’s and Israel’s bidding. In such a contest, success is far from assured, as we should know from Iraq, Lebanon and, indeed, Palestine itself.”

Last month, when the first round of fighting between Fatah and Hamas began, I noted that its key protagonist on the Fatah side was not President Abbas, but the warlord Mohammed Dahlan. I noted:

Dahlan’s ambitions clearly coincided with plans drawn up by White House Middle East policy chief, Elliot Abrams — a veteran of the Reagan Administration’s Central American dirty wars — to arm and train Fatah loyalists to prepare them to topple the Hamas government. If Mahmoud Abbas has been reluctant to embrace the confrontational policy promoted by the White House, Dahlan has no such qualms. And given that Abbas has no political base of his own, he is dependent entirely on Washington and Dahlan.

…Dahlan was just about the only thing that the U.S. had going for it in terms of resisting the move towards a unity government. Although his fretting and sulking in Mecca couldn’t prevent the deal, the U.S. appears to have helped him fight back afterwards by ensuring that he was appointed national security adviser, a move calculated to provoke Hamas, whose leaders tend to view Dahlan as little more than a torturer and a de facto enforcer for Israel.

But Dahlan appears to have made his move when it came to integrating the Palestinian Authority security forces (currently dominated by Fatah) by drawing in Hamas fighters and subjecting the forces to the control of a politically neutral interior minister. Dahlan simply refused, and set off the current confrontations by ordering his men out onto the street last weekend without any authorization from the government of which he is supposedly a part.

…it’s plain that Dahlan, like Pinochet a quarter century, would not move onto a path of confrontation with an elected government unless he believed he had the sanction of powerful forces abroad to do so. If does move to turn the current street battle into a frontal assault on the unity government, chances are it will be because he got a green light from somewhere — and certainly not from Mahmoud Abbas.

But the confrontation under way has assumed a momentum of its own, and it may now be beyond the capability of the Palestinian leadership as a whole to contain it. If that proves true, the petulance that has substituted for policy in the Bush Administration’s response to the 2006 Palestinian election will have succeeded in turning Gaza into Mogadishu. But it may be too much to expect the Administration capable of anything different — after all, they’re still busy turning Mogadishu into Mogadishu all over again.

This analysis was echoed by Haaretz’s Danny Rubinstein, who writes:

“The recent events we have been witnessing in Gaza are actually the disbanding of Palestinian rule. The primary reason for the break-up is the fact that Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has refused to fully share the PA’s mechanism of power with its rival Hamas – in spite of Hamas’ decisive victory in the January 2006 general elections.

“Fatah was forced to overrule the Palestinian voters because the entire world demanded it do so. The United States, the European nations, most of the Arab leaders and, of course, the State of Israel, warned Fatah not to share power with Hamas.

“And so, after the Israeli pullout, instead of becoming a model for Palestinian self-rule, Gaza turned into the exact opposite. Matters have come to the point where Hamas operatives attempted all through Monday and Tuesday to take by force what they believe they rightfully deserve. “

Indeed, in this month of observing the anniversary of the 1967 war, Hamas appears to have taken a leaf from Israel’s playbook in that conflict. Instead of standing by and letting Dahlan set the terms of the conflict, slowly raising the temperature of the confrontation in keeping with the capabilities of his forces, Hamas went to war this time to destroy Fatah’s capability to fight in Gaza. Having trounced Fatah on the polls, it now moved to trounce them on the streets in a well-orchestrated military campaign that scattered and neutralized Dahlan’s forces. Many of them surrendered or simply melted away; some 40 officers of the U.S.-trained presidential guard were last seen blowing a hole into the Israeli wall around Gaza through which they fled to Egypt, where there commander, Dahlan, happened to be anyway.

The rout has been complete in Gaza, forcing Abbas to accept Hamas’s terms for a new truce. Gaza, as Abbas aides have said bluntly, “is lost.” Another spectacular Middle East debacle for the Bush Administration’s trophy cabinet. Hundreds of Palestinians have died and thousands more have had their lives ruined by the brutal arrogant folly of Rice, Abrams and company. Hamas is in power because the Palestinian people wanted it there, and no amount of economic strangulation or proxy warfare has altered that fact. It didn’t have to go this way; this was the route that Washington chose, believing it would prevail.

The administration’s response when Hamas was elected in January 2006 echoed Brecht’s mocking of the East German leadership in 1948: “The people have lost confidence in the party? Well, then, why not dissolve the people and elect another?” It was widely warned that Hamas was an intractable reality, that the U.S. should engage with rather than try to ignore or eliminate. I wrote in February of last year,

The administration that proclaims its mission as spreading democracy now seeks to punish the Palestinians for using their votes to get rid of a corrupt and decrepit regime (that happens to be headed by a U.S. ally). Shades, here, of Kissinger’s rationale for the coup in Chile: “We can’t stand by and let a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” The Bush people are so tragically out of touch with the reality on the ground that they spent the weeks before the election funding desperate last-minute projects by local Fatah candidates in the hope of saving their hides. The effect was probably just the opposite: Hamas was only too pleased to point out that these were America’s candidates, knowing that in Palestinian eyes that’s a kiss of death.

…The Palestinian electorate was able to abandon Fatah for the simple reason that Ariel Sharon, with the backing of the Bush administration, had shown the Palestinians that Fatah was entirely irrelevant to their fate. The New York Times says some U.S. officials wonder whether the election should have been delayed further in order to allow Fatah to gain maximum benefit from Sharon’s Gaza pullout. And to think that these geniuses are paid a salary out of my tax dollars… The only Palestinians to benefit politically from Sharon’s Gaza pullout was Hamas. After all, it was not negotiated with Fatah or Abu Mazen; it was a unilateral action coordinated with Washington, and the Palestinian street deduced that is must therefore have been a victory for the resistance of Hamas and likeminded Fatah elements. Abu Mazen was never going to get the benefit from Gaza no matter how long the election was delayed, but a second delay (remember, they were supposed to be held last summer) would have doomed his party to an even heavier defeat.

The Palestinians simply decided to move on rather than maintain the illusion that Abu Mazen somehow had a diplomatic strategy that would deliver their national goals. Conventional wisdom after 2001 was that the Palestinians, through their intifada, had elected Ariel Sharon to lead Israel. And five years later, it may be argued that Sharon elected Hamas.

…The election of Hamas is not a threat to the peace process; it’s a symptom of the failure of that process. And the Bush administration’s passivity, and its encouragement of Sharon’s unilateralism, contributed in no small part to that failure, and therefore to the victory of Hamas. (I mean, has everyone really forgotten the warnings of years ago from the Fatah moderates and the Israeli doves that failure to reach a deal with Fatah would leave Israel to have to deal with Hamas? It really was that obvious.) For the decade of Oslo, West Bank Palestinians had stood by and watched Fatah leaders enriching themselves while the Israelis continued to grab their land and choke off their economic life. Fatah had come to represent Palestinian powerlessness as Sharon bulldozed his way around, remaking the landscape of the West Bank and Gaza to his own specification knowing that the only consequence would be the sound of Saeeb Erekat complaining to Wolf Blitzer. It’s hardly surprising that Hamas managed to cloak itself in the mantle of the redeemer of Palestinian national dignity and subjectivity.

…The U.S. can’t afford to restrict itself to scolding and warning the new Palestinian government. Engagement is vital at this point, and the grownup position – as articulated by the Europeans – is that Hamas must be judged, in the new situation, on its actions rather than on the contents of its slogans, songs and manifestoes. There is, strangely enough, an enhanced prospect for security and stability in the new situation, if it’s smartly managed on all sides. That, of course, is a big if.

As, indeed, it was. Instead, the U.S. talked the Europeans around to reluctantly signing on to their siege strategy until Hamas was ready to symbolically surrender. That didn’t happen. Now, Hamas has made clear that it is an intractable reality, although the fighting has likely greatly increased the balance within the organization in favor of the more confrontational element. And Dahlan turned out to be a Paper Pinochet.

Still, given their spectacular inability to comprehend the reasons for their defeats in the Palestinian territory, I don’t expect the U.S. to begin engaging pragmatically with the reality of Hamas as an indispensable component of the Palestinian leadership. Instead, given the endless capacity for self-delusion of the people running U.S. Middle East policy, I fully expect to see the U.S. rush resources to Egypt where Dahlan can be reunited with his scattered forces in preparation for his next historic role — at the head of a “Bay of Pigs” type invasion of Gaza.

June 21st, 2007, 5:47 pm


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